Amidst talk of the potential plusses of a swollen Austin Convention Center, some council members Monday heard for the first time publicly about a recent consultant review of the Travis County Expo Center.
While the consultants were not in attendance, Parks and Recreation Department Development Administrator Brian Block summed up their findings – starting first with a count of the separate pieces that make up the Expo Center as it stands today.
“An arena, a 210,000-square-foot show barn with a dirt floor really geared towards livestock and animals, a banquet hall and also a skyline club that’s part of the arena,” Block said.
Consultants hired by the city, Travis County and Rodeo Austin – which is held at the Expo Center – argue in a report that these facilities are aging and obsolete. Therefore, proposed are the creation of a 15,000-seat arena, an exhibit hall, a ballroom and meeting space. Consultants have also recommended tacking on additional parking space.
Surprisingly, Council members didn’t flinch much at the roughly $630 million sticker price. Instead, the potential of a bigger Expo Center was met with anticipation – particularly from Council Member Ora Houston, whose district houses the center.
“I’ve been excited about the possibilities for this for some time,” said Houston. “It’s a lot of money. So we need to really look carefully at how it can be funded.”
Block said his department was meeting with the city's legal department to determine if Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT Tax) could be used to fund an expansion.
Consultants estimate visitors to a new and expanded Expo Center would spend $3.3 billion over 30 years, and that the additional space would add 1,200 full-time jobs plus 5,205 temporary construction jobs.
But, while talk of expanding the city’s downtown convention center is also flying around, Houston emphasized making clear how the uses of each facility would differ – and hopefully finding a way to fill what she called a “missing middle” among Austin’s large event space.
“One seems to be more high-level, classy. One maybe is not as classy. And then we’re missing that middle part that’s kind of in-between. I could see RV shows there,” she said. “UT using some parts of it. So there are a lot of creative things that could happen in that area, so how do we piece it all together?”
A final presentation (with consultants present) of an expanded Travis County Expo Center will go in front of the the full council in early June.
This story was produced as part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.